It looks like another bumper year for Greek Island holidays in 2014 with visitor numbers almost certain to top the 21 million mark this year. Holiday visitors in October topped 1.2 million, a 23% rise on last year and that doesn't include cruise ship arrivals. It will be the third year in a row that Greece has set new records for international visitors and will out Greece among the top holiday destinations in the world. Street protests in Athens over austerity measures to tackle Greece's ailing economy failed to deter holidaymakers this year and a sharp drop n Russian visitors following the collapse of several east European tour operators was offset by a big increase in visitors from the UK and Germany. The growth in tourism has been vital for the Greek economy, bringing in billions of euros in foreign cash.
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Independent holiday guides to all the main Greek islands and beach resorts as well as travel information and holiday offers from tour companies and Greek hotel owners. We try to keep it all up to date but with so many islands it's not easy. Please email Greek Islands Postcards about any inaccuracies.
As an antidote to the usual gushing Greece holiday brochures we offer a more prosaic peek at holiday travel in the Greek islands with unbiased reports and independent guides to the best Greek beaches.
Our Popular Greek islands list those in greatest demand. They usually have their own airport and plenty of tourist attractions.
The Peaceful islands tend to be off the main tourist trail and, while some have larger airports, others may need a ferry journey to reach them.
The Sleepy islands are well off the tourist track and may only be reached by ferry, with some a considerable distance from the nearest large airport.
Our Offbeat islands are mainly for those seeking a more remote and authentic Greek islands holiday.
Favourite Greek beaches
This fast growing beach resort 6km from Zakynthos Town has a 2km long, sandy beach backed by olive and citrus groves. Shallow water and soft sand makes Tsilivi a very attractive resort for families with children.
Makryammos has a white sand beach set in a pine-sheltered bay that is crammed with sunbeds, umbrellas and all the usual facilities for an organised family holiday beach with holiday bungalows in the hills.
Tsambika is a wide beach of deep, golden sand set in a beautiful bay at the end of a long and steep, winding road. Tsambika has good, soft sand and the water is shallow and calm so this beach is very popular with families.
A total of 38 Greek Island beaches have been stripped of their Blue Flag status this summer after spot checks found they failed to reach the required standards. Corfu was hit the worst after 23 of its 30 island beaches having the coveted Blue Flags withdrawn. Inspectors found that many of the island beaches failed to meet the 32 strict criteria needed to win Blue Flag status. Other notable flag losses were on the islands of Lesvos, Zante and Crete. The setback still leaves Greece second out of 51 countries for the number of clean, safe beaches along its shores, with 370 still flying the Blue Flag, but this will be a bitter blow to Greek tourism leaders. The Blue Flag beach award is considered the gold standard in the tourism industry with the annual accolade issued by the Foundation for Environmental Education.
Featured Greek sights
Noted for its role in the Battle of Crete when monks sheltered marooned Allied troops from the Germans, the small 19th century monastery and gardens command spectacular views over the Libyan Sea.
The house of Lena is a traditional Mykonos house of 19th century, open to visitors April to October, and just as it would have been when it was in normal use, with original decorations, handmade furniture and household items.
The Petrified Forest of Lesvos was formed when Mount Ordymnos erupted and drowned the trees in ash about 20 million years ago. At 3km across the forest is one of the biggest in the world, with a good visitor centre.
It's been a long time coming but seaplane services linking Greek Islands should be underway by the summer of 2015. Hellenic Seaplanes says a total of 30 routes are in the process of being licensed across the country with plans for most to be operational next year. In the pipeline are seaplane services between islands such as Corfu, Crete and Zante and the aim is to have around 100 waterways operating by 2016. The seaplane services could breathe new life into more remote islands by making them much easier for tourists to reach. The Greek company is already bidding for land along the southern coast of Faliro and space in the Athens Marina for an Attica waterway to launch seaplane flights. The port authority in Sitia, Crete, is the latest to issue a waterway licence and construction work is expect to begin this year.
Scuba diving off the Greek Islands got a new lease of life when diving bans were lifted. Now Greek scuba dive centres are springing up everywhere to meet the demand. Until recently, diving was limited to just a few Greek island dive sites in order to protect the ancient underwater treasures that lie beneath its seas. Now scuba diving is allowed pretty much everywhere in Greek seas with just a few prohibited sites. The result has been a sharp rise in the number of Greek Island diving centres. In choosing one for your holiday be sure to check that instructors are PADI qualified and the wise will take out specialist scuba diving insurance just in case. That said, the crystal clear waters of Greece are teeming with marine life and there are some spectacular caves and shipwrecks for Greek Island visitors to explore.
Planning ahead has always been a headache for those who like Greek island hopping on the extensive ferry system. Summer timetables were never published before May making it hard work to plan a Greek holiday on more than a couple of islands. This year is different. Ferry companies got together and agreed to release summer routes and schedules at the end of last year. The move makes it possible for Greek holiday enthusiasts to cash in on holiday discounts for booking cheap flights early safe in the knowledge that they will not find themselves stuck on an island for days trying to find out when the next ferry sailing is scheduled. The much-welcomed move, along with newly launched seaplane services, should help boost visitor numbers to the Greek Islands even more and extend the holiday season.
There are more than 6,000 Greek Islands but most are just lumps of rock. Only around 230 are inhabited and about 80 have a population over 100. About a dozen are major holiday destinations with another 20 having substantial tourist visitors. There are six basic island groupings: the Ionian lie to the west and contain holiday islands of Corfu, Lefkas, Kefalonia and Zante. The Cyclades are found in the central Aegean and include Mykonos and Santorini as well as lesser visited islands like Paros and Naxos. To the east are the Dodecanese and major islands like Rhodes and Kos as well as smaller ones such as Symi and Patmos. To the northeast is the Sporades group which includes Skiathos and the north Aegean group of Samos, Lesvos and Thassos. To the south is Crete - big enough to be on its own.